Change of paradigms for lightweight design

A shelves with magazines

High potential for international lightweight design markets

This year's "VDI Lightweight Design Congress 2016", July 5-6, 2016 in Bremen, Germany, assembles top-class speakers and participants for a cross-industry dialog on chances and possibilities of lightweight design against the backdrop of global competitiveness. 

Preparing our visit at the congress, we are curious about the contribution of Leichtbau BW, "The Development Agency for Lightweighting Baden-Wuerttemberg". The institution – located in a federal state with high density of car manufacturers and their suppliers – is serving commercial industries and research groups or institutions to facilitate and promote the lightweight technology business. Managing Director Dr. Wolfgang Seeliger focus on the trends and perspectives for lightweight design in the automotive industry of Germany facing the advancements of competitors in the USA and Asia. The lightweight design markets contain high potential, but it will need a clear change of paradigms.   

The trend to multi-material design

Based on studies of the German Aerospace Center and a couple of Fraunhofer institutions commissioned by Leichtbau BW, Dr. Seeliger and his team see a clear trend to multi-material solutions in lightweight design. A lot of publications and projects of the previous years focus on the combination of different materials. China (esp. universities) and the USA (esp. GM and Ford), are mentioned as leading players investing extraordinary effort in lightweight science, followed by Germany. Aluminum (Al), carbon fiber (CF) and high-strength steels (HSS) are the relevant materials. Al and CF show overproportional growth over the last 5 years.

The agencies' advice for the German automotive industry concerning materials and the global competition: Variety is an advantage. A competition of materials is powering the trend to multi-material design. Companies should focus on material- and technology-unbiased research and design for a wide range of future options. And don't forget: Mainly, the choice of materials is still seen as a matter of quantities and prices. 

Evaluating the global competition in automotive lightweight design, Leichtbau BW concentrates on Ford and GM, analyzing their emphasis on metal lightweight design and the multi-material lightweight vehicle. (See also our related content: "Ford’s approach to vehicle lightweighting") Using innovative composite materials is also driving new and innovative processing. Ford's F 150 is the first mass-production vehicle with an aluminum-body saving about 700 pounds of weight from a full-size truck. Compared to German car producers, Ford and GM seem to have an advanced position in lightweight design for high-volume cars.

Automotive industry is an innovation driver

The researchers also prospected and compared lightweight market size of machinery and plant engineering, building industry, electrical industry, and automotive industry, conservatively and simplified derived from current patent rates.

According to the results, the automotive sector could remain one of the most important markets for lightweight design. Leichtbau BW sees the automotive industries clearly as significant drivers of innovation. Mechanical engineering and the electrical industry are prompted as upcoming markets with a little less dynamic.

Change of paradigms is indispensable

In order to speed up innovation for gaining new markets and chances, a change of paradigms is seen as a necessity. This applies for materials research and design and also for optimization of process and digital structures. For Germany, Leichtbau BW prospects an increasing gap between vehicle fleets carbon emissions and European Union's CO2 emission limits.

As a result of the commissioned research and expert interviews, Dr. Seeliger outlines three new paradigms for tapping the high potential of future automotive lightweight design: conceptual lightweight design, process innovation, digitalization of the supply chain.    

  • conceptual lightweight design: Mercedes F015 or the Next Generation Car by German Aerospace Center are current examples from Germany
  • process innovation in the development of complex components: change from the traditional linear process towards an interative, cyclic process
  • digitalization of the supply chain: (mostly still lacking) parameters for lightweight design are needed in a standardized database exchange for lightweight-optimization

The studies support an attitude of thinking "beyond lightweight". Dr. Seeliger concludes from the studies that traditional lightweight design with a strong focus on sheer material science and development will not be enough facing future challenges for example autonomous driving.

If you like to get deeper insight into the studies Dr. Seeliger is refering to, click the links below to get access to the summaries as PDF. (German language only)